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Gas company appeals order giving Porter Ranch residents weeks to return home

Southern California Gas Co. is appealing a court order extending the period during which the utility must pay for temporary housing for people displaced by the four-month gas leak at its Aliso Canyon storage facility.

The leak was sealed Feb. 18. The gas company has been paying for hotels and other temporary housing for residents of nearby Porter Ranch and surrounding communities who fled the rotten egg-like smell and related health effects — including headaches, nausea and nosebleeds.

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Health officials have said that those issues probably were related to the additives that give natural gas its smell, but that the leak was not expected to cause long-term health problems.

Under a deal reached with city officials, the relocation assistance was to end Thursday. Los Angeles County officials requested a court order extending the timeline for another 22 days.

County officials said that some residents who had returned home continued to report health problems and that the extension was needed to allow time for more air testing, including inside homes.

Gas company attorneys argued that multiple tests had shown air in the vicinity to be safe.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu M. Berle sided with the county, saying the risk of potential harm to residents outweighed the cost to the utility of continuing to house people.

Gas company officials said Friday that they had filed an appeal, citing data and health assessments by state and local agencies showing “that the air quality in the area has never posed any long-term health risk, and that the air has now returned to the typical air quality levels that existed prior to the leak.”

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The court decision late Thursday generated confusion among displaced residents and the hotels housing them.

Some residents who had checked out of their rooms Thursday morning were told by hotels that they could not continue to stay unless they paid the bills. Others found that their rooms had been booked by other guests by the time the judge issued his order.

Porter Ranch resident Pam Brodsky, 62, said she and her husband had relocated to a Sheraton hotel in early December after experiencing nose bleeds, disorientation and other symptoms at home. They checked out of the hotel and went back to their apartment Thursday after being notified by the gas company that the relocation period was ending.

Brodsky said Friday that she had not been able to reach anyone at the gas company since the court ruling and had not decided yet whether to move back to a hotel or stay home.

“We’re in limbo again,” she said. “It’s not great any which way you look at it.”

Brodsky said she had not experienced any symptoms since going home, but remains concerned. “I do not believe anybody at this point, because everyone keeps telling a different story.”

In its statement Friday, the gas company said that residents who remained in their hotels or checked out after the leak was sealed could continue to stay or return to hotels under the relocation plan until the appeal is resolved.

The utility said it would try to find rooms for residents who checked out Thursday and could not get back into their rooms that night, but noted that “we cannot guarantee that rooms will be immediately available.”

“Qualifying residents may, however, self-place in a hotel and seek reimbursement according to the relocation plan,” the statement said.

As of Thursday, an attorney for the utility said about 3,400 displaced households were staying in temporary housing, at a cost of about $2 million a day. 

Twitter: @sewella

abby.sewell@latimes.com

MORE ON PORTER RANCH GAS LEAK

Porter Ranch leak declared largest methane leak in U.S. history

Southern California Gas using enhanced leak detection and inspections at Aliso Canyon

Judge orders gas company to give Porter Ranch residents longer to return home after leak

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

2:37 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from a Porter Ranch resident.

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